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WHEATLAND, PA. Merger panel mulls fire services



Published: Fri, August 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A draft version of the plan shows a combination of paid and volunteer departments.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

WHEATLAND, Pa. -- If the five Shenango Valley municipalities decide to consolidate into a single city, should the new municipality have a paid or volunteer fire department or a combination of both?

That's one of the questions the Shenango Valley Intergovernmental Study Committee has to deal with as it looks at the pros and cons of a possible consolidation of the governments of Farrell, Wheatland, Sharon, Hermitage and Sharpsville.

Thomas Lally, Sharpsville councilman and chairman of the study group's Fire Subcommittee, said at a study committee meeting here Thursday that an initial draft proposal shows a combination of paid and volunteer fire services.

The tentative version calls for all existing paid personnel working in the Sharon, Hermitage and Farrell fire departments to consolidate into a single department serving those three cities (with the exception of the Patagonia area of Hermitage) with backup provided by volunteers.

Only Sharon has a full paid fire department now. Farrell and Hermitage have a combination of paid and volunteer fire crews.

The present volunteer departments serving Patagonia, Sharpsville and Wheatland would continue as separate entities.

Any plan put forth by the study committee would be contingent upon voters in the five municipalities voting to consolidate their municipalities.

Possibilities: Although the study committee is working on creating a model for a single municipality in which no current employees would lose their jobs, that may not be its final recommendation, said Alan Kugler of the Pennsylvania Economy League, the consultant guiding the study.

In the final analysis, the committee might determine that a consolidation won't work or that some smaller combination of municipalities might be better. It could end up just recommending some form of increased sharing of government services to save costs, he said.

The committee is to come up with a final report by the end of the year and, if a consolidation is recommended, that plan will be presented to the five municipal councils next year, Kugler said.

If any council rejects the plan, the citizens of that community have the right to organize a petition-signing drive to get the issue put on their election ballot. Approval by a municipal council would automatically put the issue on the ballot.

Voting would take place in 2003 and, if approved by the voters of all five municipalities, the earliest a new government could begin operations is January 2006, Kugler said.

Should voters in any one of the five municipalities reject the consolidation at the polls, the entire plan dies, though the remaining municipalities could address the issue again in the future, he said.

The next committee meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at a location in Sharon to be announced. The meetings are open to the public.




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